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An Account of Samoan History up to 1918

Governmental interference in the control of villages-to what extent should it be practised?

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Governmental interference in the control of villages-to what extent should it be practised?

The subject of European interest and inhibitions in the control of their own affairs and customs by the Samoans has been for many years a source of prolific discussions.

When discussing the control by the Samoans of their daily lives in their villages it should be borne in mind that such control includes and is inextricably bound up with all Samoan custom, for on Samoan oustom is the village life founded.

History records that the initial steps taken by all civilising agencies when they first come into contact with primitive peoples are in the line of attempting to prohibit or mitigate such customs as it is believed are contrary to Christian morality. Unfortunately this attempt also teaches that man is born a degenerate and unless purified by some hocus-pocus en rapport with hypnotic influence, he can never be saved, whatever that means.

Of all the Polynesian peoples the Samoans were possibly the least inclined to cruelty and degenerate practices and the few customs they had that were possibly in need of remodelling were no worse that many European customs that survive down to the present day. It appears that one of the failings of our European civilisation is that we are prone to attempt to force our brand of morality, our ideas of progress, our interpretation of the laws of nature, and our conceptions of life, on primitive peoples without having due regard to the ideas and wishes of our victims. Possibly it may be argued that the European races have been constituted the protectors of these native races and it is with the idea of fulfilling these obligations that they attempt to revise and remodel their system of living. There is in all communities the potentiality for developing along the lines that will bring the greatest happiness, and that potentiality is in conformity with past experiences. The potentiality may not be developed or be developed very slowly but [gap — reason: unclear] in what manner and at what time it will be is closely allied to heredity. Have we as a more advanced race taken into consideration the factors that underlie progress from the native standpoint or have we adopted convention's close fitting mental carapace and unthinkingly decided to page 7 force our ideas and our systems on an unappreciative people? Speculation never ceases and there is no telling to what ends or with what disconcerting regularity the apparently sound theories of the past will be replaced by ideas that now seem ridiculous and it behoves us to move warily when we undertake to root up and out the customs and social system of a people who through many generations have found that their methods are conducive to more happiness than ours as far an they are concerned. To enable us to understand the native viewpoint we must have an “Understanding” of them; a mere knowledge will not suffice. The difference between knowledge and understanding may be likened to the difference between food in the stomach and the same food after digestion and assimilation. The mind is fed knowledge true and false. But unless the knowledge is digested and assimilated it causes mental indigestion and is regurgitated in the form of mental junk, bunk, and all kinds of fallacious teachings. Mental indigestion on the civilisation of the Samoans has filled pages of newspapers, reports and books, but the one vital requirement when dealing with the subject “Poise” has been left out. Poise has been supplanted by egomania, which has become a torch that has and is converting every idea and rumour into a frenzy. An egomaniac enthusiast on the subject of the government of the Samoans becomes a pronounced menace particularly when his mania is in the line of doing in five minutes what mother Nature amused herself with for a thousand years. The egomaniac has a one track mind and when he gets hold of an outstanding, generally accepted, popular belief, he grapples with it and binds it with mental hoops of steel and refuses to entertain any new idea.

Possibly the first organised effort to introduce new ideas and to break down and through the Samoan customs was made by the early Missionaries who introduced European clothing to cover the bodies of the heathen Samoans. They taught that the human body was a disgusting sight and that God had made a mistake when he overlooked clothing their bodies in plus fours at birth. The Trader was waiting cloth in hand behind the Missionary to fulfill the demand he knew would arise. The act of insisting that all natives who had professed Christianity must wear clothing of a fashion set by the Missionaries immediately necessitated the giving up or at least of modifying more than one custom that page 8 did not tend towards race degeneracy. The Samoan was also presented with a new God which materially upset his calculations and on his acceptance of Christianity he found himself in the position of having to conform to a number of regulations that inhibited or rendered difficult the carrying out of his old customs. The Trader too, with an eye open for number one, unconsciously aided and abetted the Missionary in weaning the Samoan away from his age old line of thought and action by presenting to him a new and quicker method of obtaining food, clothing, drink etc. And all these new things again caused the Samoan to attempt to adjust his outlook, his customs, his body and his mind to a foreign method. It will be agreed that where the European methods and customs have tended to ameliorate or remove those native habits that undeniably were detrimental to his progress, some good has been occasioned, but in doing this it is possible that customs that were all in his favour have also been wiped out. It is unfortunate that in dealing with the Polynesian peoples we must recognise that Law and Order or European Governmental control was the third force in the field and much harm had been done to the Natives before Governments were established. Again, before Governments can be operative in the interests of the aboriginals, it is necessary to have a number of trained men to advise and assist. Irreparable harm has been done in many directions through the lack of capable advisers and there has been a hectic chase in the endeavour to find a cure for the multitudinous symptomatology that is manifesting itself in more than one Polynesian Island. The law of increasing toleration would seem to be operating but saturation point will one day be reached and then what? From the year 1822 onward we find that there has been a consistent and persistent effort made to dabble in and interfere with many Samoan customs that had much better have been left alone. Official and non official parties all have tried their hand at it and it was not until Dr Solf took over the reins of Government in 1900 that any serious attention was paid to this question. He has left it on record that he gave the question of endeavouring to change the Samoan customs in order to bring them more into line with European page 9 ideals, serious and long consideration. The result of his thought and investigations was that he became fully convinced that as a race they had nothing to gain by introducing any marked changes and he decided to leave them severely alone except in a few instances where it was not possible for their own welfare to allow a continuation of some of their activities. Sanitation, crimes of violence against the individual or State and similar serious matters were the business of the Government. It was also clearly recognised that the Samoans must first of all indicate a desire to adopt and put into practice the customs of their European overlords, and antecedent to this desire must be advice and example. If having been advised and shown by example, the Samoan still prefers to adhere to his long accustomed and thoroughly understood customs, it would seem that it is a mere waste of time to attempt to graft on to his method of living an unwanted European culture, obviously he will rebel and should he be forced by law to accept the new order it is inevitable that trouble will ensue. It should also be borne in mind when attempting to uproot the firmly established Samoan customs, that the people of these Islands are not entirely to be classified with the aboriginals of other Pacific lands. Such factors as heredity, climate, food supplies and the natural inclinations of the people must obviously rank as important factors in coming to conclusions, and it is quite definite that these factors as applicable to Samoa differ from the conditions obtaining in other Polynesian lands. If it is so destined that evolution in the form of education, example, trade, will cause a change in the desires and lives of the Samoans and ultimately fashion their lives on the European pattern, this should be recognised as a fact and the change left to time to bring about in her own peculiar manner. The old truism about the horse and the water would seem to apply with particular force to the Samoans at the present time.

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The attitude of the German Administration was in keeping with Dr Solf's summing up of the position and this attitude continued until the outbreak of War in 1914. Colonel Logan on taking over the Administration of Samoa on behalf of New Zealand adopted the attitude that his control was a military one and under war conditions; and as far as the natives were concerned he interfered with them even less than Dr Solf had done. During the period of the war and until such time as it was finally settled who should control these Islands, the Samoans were wise enough to remain reasonably quiet. When it was definitely decided that New Zealand would have the governing of Samoa they began to make representations to the authorities in Wellington asking for a greater say in the management in their own affairs. These appeals apparently were understood to embrane control from a European viewpoint but nothing could be further from the truth. They certainly indicated that the Samoans wished to have representation in the government of their country, but they were more concerned that this rightto have a say would include the right to decide whether they would be governed according to Samoan custom or not; in other words they did not desire that their customs should be substituted by European methods of native control without their consent. As a result of their frequent appeals they were given certain and limited powers through their alleged representatives but unfortunately these powers were so inextricably mixed up with non Samoan methods that they were actually an abrogation of Samoan custom. The natives quickly discovered that not only were they not getting back their cherished customs and methods of procedure, but that they were actually much worse off than before they had asked for representation. New Zealand had commendably evinced willingness to assist but her efforts were founded on a lack of understanding of the wishes of the natives, and some of her Orders in Council were actually incensory to the Samoans. Unfortunately some of the laws passed have not been impotent of great harm and their effects have been on the cumulative principal and have proved very obdurate of rectification. Every difficult subject seems to have a language all its own and this appears to be an unfortunate necessity because it obscures the page 12 problem to minds unacquainted with the branch of knowledge in question. On the question of Samoan customs and the administration of these people we have had superior brilliance marked or sandwiched with inexcusable lapses with the Samoan acting as as the material between the sandwiches.

It is believed that the time has now arrived for a careful study of the whole question by the best minds that are available and that all issues excepting the ones of most interest and importance to the Samoans should be excluded. Petty ideas, unfounded beliefs, pipe dreams, maudlin sentimentality: there should be no place for these things in and when deciding on the methods of government best suited to and acceptable by the natives of Samoa. They at least have the moral claim to be allowed to have a voice in formulating laws and making regulations to govern their own lives, particularly where such laws touch upon and are bound up with their natural customs. So long as heterogeneity reigns and definite policies based on consideration of the wishes of these people are lacking, so long will chaos reign.